What is to be said or done about the many "Bartlebys" of the world? They come in many shapes and sizes, and are misunderstood and boggled about for different reasons, but they all trigger a sense of softhearted humanity in all they touch. Herman Melville's Bartleby lets the reader make what they please concerning the baffling scrivener who, quite simply stated throughout the story, "would prefer not to" do just about anything. Yet his employer just can not seem to get angry, for Bartleby does not refuse to work, he simply, and seemingly sadly, states that he would rather not perform his instructed duties. He does not say it in vain, but rather in sadness. There is something about Bartleby that calms the reader, yet makes them slightly angry over Bartleby's persistent stubbornness.
The narrator felt calm but somewhat perplexed by Bartleby's impassive declines. Although the narrator, an attorney, employed quite a strange few of scriveners to work under him, Bartleby was by far the most complex, for each time his employer requested he examine a copied paper, Bartleby would reservedly reply, "I would prefer not to", and proceed with his copying. "I looked at him steadfastly. His face was leanly composed; his gray eyes dimly calm. Not a wrinkle of agitation rippled him. Had there been the least uneasiness, anger, impatience or impertinence in his manner...had there been anything ordinarily human about him, doubtless I should have violently dismissed him from the premises." This quote suggests the special influence Bartleby possesses; the mark he makes on a mere man of the same species, and on of a sound mind. And the lawyer even states, "...
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... "I would prefer not to, but I am not particular" was his ambiguous reply. The narrator did beyond what most good-hearted people would have done for Bartleby, and finally, he sadly concluded, "I think he is a little deranged."
Humanity no doubt affected both Bartleby and the narrator. In those dead letters Bartleby handled, he must have seen humanity and inhumanity alike. Those dead letters left Bartleby dead inside and let nothing matter to him thereafter. He may as well preferred not to live, and the attorney who desperately tried to make Bartleby see sanity again was too late and of no use. Something so simple and innocent turned out so sad and unclear. I know exactly why the last line of Bartleby was printed to say "Ah, Bartleby! Ah, humanity!" Melville wanted to leave me wondering how many Bartlebys there are and what their stories are.
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